It was in Baldwin that Zack Henry first developed a passion for soccer — something he nurtured throughout his life. He is president and co-creator of the recently formed Elm City Express, a New Haven, Conn.-based semi-professional soccer club, which competed for the first time this year in the Atlantic-Blue Conference of theNational Premier Soccer League, and won.
The Elm City Express, in its inaugural season, claimed the NPSL championship on Aug. 12 with a 5-0 win over Midland-Odessa FC at Yale University’s Reese Stadium. The team dominated the regional and national playoffs to take home the 15th NPSL title.
“Certainly when we started out, [winning] was not our expectation. There were 96 teams from across the United States that were competing for the championship, so I think it would have been more than a little arrogant to think little old us, just starting out, would have a chance to win it all.”
But then, as the season marched on and we kept winning and kind of gaining confidence, we started to believe ‘Hey, maybe we can do this.’
“With each subsequent victory, it became more and more real, and more possible, and we wound up [winning].”
Henry grew up in Baldwin after moving from Brooklyn when he was 5. “I grew up playing soccer in the high school, played through [various clubs], and played for the Baldwin Eagles before joining other travel teams,” he said. He also played at Amherst College, where he earned Adidas Scholar-Athlete All-America and New England Intercollegiate Soccer League All-Star honors.
He has lived in Spain, Puerto Rico, Mexico, France, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, and has done business in more than 35 countries. In 2015, he and his partners founded K2 Soccer USA, a sister company of Brazil-based K2 Soccer SA, which owns and operates Clube Atlético Tubarão, a professional Brazilian club.
“We decided to create a sister club in the United States because we saw a lot of opportunity in bridging that gap between Brazil and the States,” Henry said. “And taking the best of Brazilian soccer and bringing it here, and vice versa.”
The objective was never as one-dimensional as to simply “bring Brazilian soccer to the United States.” Instead, the idea was to encourage an exchange of soccer ideas, coaching techniques and even players.
“This type of international cooperation happens a lot less frequently than you’d think,” Henry said. “And so, because we have the same ownership group, we were in a perfect [position] to make that happen.”
He added that his team’s big win in the largest professional-amateur soccer league in the U.S. reassured him of the direction the organization is going.
“We had an alignment, I’d say, of everybody involved in the project where we were all committed and giving it all we’ve got,” Henry said. “And I think that’s a big reason why we were successful. It felt great.”
it really validated completely our approach … I think from management to coaching staff to the players, everybody was on the same page.”
The managing director of the NPSL, Jef Thiffault, praised the club for its performance, and the positive potential he sees in fostering a healthy sports rivalry. “The National Premier Soccer League is very excited to welcome Elm City Express as a new member,” Thiffault said. “… The relationship between Elm City Express and Club Atlético Tubarão will provide a great setting for best practices and uniquely connect the cities of New Haven and Tubarão.”
New Haven was chosen to host the team after Henry read an April 2016 article by Dr. J. Kolko, who calculated which U.S. metropolitan area looks most like the country overall, based on age, education, race and ethnicity. He concluded “the metropolitan area that looks most like the United States is New Haven, Conn.”
Henry said his team decided on the name Elm City Express because “from our experience, soccer clubs have the greatest chance of success when they are as locally engaged as possible — and what better way to be local than to embrace the city’s endearing nickname, Elm City?”
“I feel very fortunate to be involved with the launch of Elm City Express in the great city of New Haven,” said the team’s head coach, Teddy Haley. “As a player and now as a coach who was born and raised, and continues to live in New Haven County, I am very aware of the love and passion the people of Connecticut have for soccer … I am extremely excited to help bring pro soccer to New Haven and have the team and our supporters embrace the fabulous Elm City.”
The Express is due to take part in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, American soccer’s national championship, but the team will be taking a much-needed break before training starts again early next year.